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The ‘earth-shaking’ effect of a stage

Sunday, March 13, 2011

As if T&T nationals needed any more convincing after Monday and Tuesday, yesterday’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan should have underscored just how lucky this country is. But there  it was, even in the Carnival—“politics” from start to finish even where the wining was concerned. (And there wasn’t necessarily any real “Advantage” donated by Machel Montano.) In fact the season could have been a period much like yesterday’s House of Representatives session. The recently-concluded C2K11 had the 10-month old PP administration copping as much criticism outside the House as it usually does inside, even amid the points it received for the  period and the high party atmosphere.

Indeed, a “party” atmosphere of a different type seeped into this year’s national fete. For Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar it meant imprinting festivities with her personal stamp, from trotting out the security to  guesting at events. Persad-Bissessar carved her own niche in political history at several levels as the first female PM who’s hit the Savannah stage chipping and waving. (Testimony to the record might have resided in the fact that despite being the woman wearing the most clothes on stage on Monday, Persad-Bissessar was swamped by all the photographers.) Yesterday in the House, the PM was all business following Carnival mode. Her black and white business suit didn’t display the red sequinned butterfly “tattoo” she’d sported on her left arm for Sunday’s Dimanche Gras show. (Certainly a first for any PM.)

Missing was the multi-coloured feathered mini-mohawk headpiece (from Tribe’s “Masai” section) which  Persad- Bissessar had worn for Monday’s Savannah appearance. Gone too, the gold “crown” she’d worn on Tuesday. But clearly the big fete hadn’t affected the memories of some MPs. The PNM side did a fair share of rumbling  in the House when Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan announced who was accompanying Persad-Bissessar on her 10-day trip to London for Commonwealth activities. “Machel (Montano) again...!”—PNM en masse. “Shame!...”—MP Paul Gopee-Scoon. “Why don’t you let him settle his case before representing T&T overseas?!”—MP Amery Browne.

Montano may well be PNM’s bane for having penned a tune which helped the Government successfully upstage the PNM. Nor will his presence among the PM’s delegation to London do much to assuage allegations about his links with Government. 

Mixed Carnival fortunes...
But Montano wasn’t the only issue this C2K11. As a freshman Carnival host, Government pulled out all stops to ensure  the making of its reputation in this regard. It might have been a formidable challenge given the PNM’s long history and expertise in Carnival. Also, fete season arrived at a time when PP stocks were ailing on various fronts. Therefore the picong from calypso social commentary which the PP elicited from some quarters (and venues) didn’t stop with the Skinner Park competition. (Nor did the boos which began with Rikki Jai’s Chutney Soca Monarch victory.) Montano’s composition,  enough of an issue in its own, was octane-fuelled by the Attorney General’s ill-timed praise of Montano.

The composition was expected to have boosted Government’s stocks where the Savannah stage was concerned. But dangerously close to Carnival days—thanks to the AG—the situation spiralled into sniping among the Soca (Power) Monarch’s top rivals. When protests arose at Montano’s victory last Friday, the PM ended up presenting Montano  with his $2m cheque at Jenny’s on the Boulevard at 5.45 am, OPM aides confirmed. Government officials said tersely the Soca Monarch fight had “gotten dirty.” The decision to present the cheque at Jenny’s away from the inflamed stadium crowd signalled  a tactical retreat of sorts since the  sight of Persad-Bissessar presenting a $2m cheque to Montano would have riled patrons to rage level.

The heat didn’t cool down at last Sunday’s Dimanche Gras show when the ears of Government, aides and supporters were musically boxed by several artistes, starting with Cro Cro at his vitriolic best.
On Monday, J’Ouvert in many locations focused on political themes, less about the PNM (now in defeat) than about the PP (in Government). From defensive however, the administration got its chance for offensive and to literally upstage critics of the three-month season with the final two days of the Savannah party. The PNM’s removal of the stage and three years of street parades  gave Government the (you guessed it) due to Trinis’ penchant for party. State-owned CNMG enterprisingly worked the situation with interviews of stage-struck, fete-happy masqueraders gushing praise of the stage.
(Onetime Whitehall spokesman under the Manning administration, Monique St Cyr McSween, was the only one who ducked the question, saying she was happy to be back in T&T after living overseas.)
Following floods of positive spin, city mayor, PNM’s Louis Lee Sing attempted reverse gear, saying mas had outgrown the venue.

...But after Carnival

The sweetness of  Carnival 2011 could well be expected to  attract a bigger overseas market of those snowbirds who might have looked on in envy at the gyrating flow of Carnival “skin-ery” earlier this week. That is, unless Government’s proposed tax on imported costumes  hikes next year’s cost to appear onstage. Bandleaders aren’t happy with the proposal and want consultation. Since bands begin production on the following year’s presentation right after concluding one, hopefully the PP will take a page out of the PNM’s notes on stage removals and begin (and conclude) consultations early enough.
Government will also have to find a viable parade plan to prevent another long wait for masqueraders. Or risk winding up as the PNM did with a flood of complaints next year when the novelty of the stage would have worn off for most.

The flip side of Government’s  billion-dollar incentive/investment in Carnival may also fuel renewed ire from police and public servants, still locked in salary issues with Government. Neither group will easily swallow the sight of million-dollar prizes being disbursed to Carnival winners. Or the argument that their sector does not perform as essential a service as the Carnival sector does. Leaving Government little breathing room for enjoying Carnival laurels, the OWTU for instance has already trumpeted its challenge in a most personal way  to its former leader now in Government.

PNM takes notes
If Government’s plan to return the Savannah stage was a political no-brainer—given T&T’s fete mentality—the Opposition may have learned a valuable lesson about the country it had governed for 40 years. Just how much the PNM might have been detached from its political moorings to the people.
Some PNMites have quietly blamed it on the Patrick Manning leadership. Others not so quietly.
Manning was absent from yesterday’s House session. PNM Senate leader Penny Beckles says: “If I had to contribute on the way forward under a new PNM administration, I’d say this experience has taught us that you must listen to the majority of the people. “You always have to reflect on things to see if they are relevant to the times—change is dynamic.”

Grilling for PNM nominees
After the PM swept through the  Savannah on Monday, PNM leader Rowley showed up at the venue bright and early Tuesday with a small conventional band, Just Friends, portraying “Dancing with the Stars.”
Though his presence was not mentioned at the time by state-owned CNMG, Rowley was reported elsewhere as saying he was happy the stage was back. His band, first across the Savannah, jumped—noticeably—to “Iza Trini,” giving no added “Advantage” to Montano. (Or Government.) Rowley had hung out in his mas alma mater, All Stars, on Monday.  

His decision to take a half ticket with the All Stars ship may have less to do with being afraid of powder or any desertion and more to do with the profile-tweaking required by his new PNM job. D/West PNMites say Rowley has been trying to “spread himself around” to network for PNM. But Rowley’s immediate focus  is this weekend’s preliminary events for next weekend’s convention and executive election. Today’s special general council will approve the convention agenda, including resolutions, reports, motions and election details. Tomorrow, the party initiates a new format of “screening” the 29 nominees for its 15 executive posts at City Hall.

Nominees are being invited to make a five-minute pitch to delegates and take questions. Voting delegates number over 600, it is understood. There has been some concern among PNMites about tomorrow’s segment and the potential it may hold to affect some nominees’ chances ahead of the convention. This is as opposed to the leadership’s view that the new format may yield better results  than blanket voting on convention day. Up to yesterday there was a question mark over whether all 29 nominees would turn up for tomorrow’s process to which they “are expected to attend,” Balisier House officials said.

They added that  it was not mandatory they attend but it “would be in their best interest.” Nominees for key leadership posts—chairman, vice chairman, lady vice chairman, general secretary—are expected to  face stiff grilling, PNM sources said. Among these is ex-MP Eudine Job Davis—contesting the lady vice chairmanship—who linked with COP before returning to PNM last year. Announcement of her contesting at a previous council meeting was met with strong opposition including expulsion calls.

PNM S/Fdo East not voting?

PNM’s San Fernando East unit meets Monday to decide on how it will deal with the upcoming election, chairman Tina Gronlund Nunez said Thursday. This amid mounting PNM word that Manning’s unit—which has the largest number of votes—may stay out  of voting to try and remain neutral. Gronlund-Nunez said the unit is attending the convention and will support the new executive.

...Won’t wash away the other stuff

• COP leader Winston Dookeran is expected to act as Prime Minister for 10 days while the PM is in London, OPM aides said.

• However, Freud may well have myriad theo-ries on why Dookeran chose to play the “Captain of the Thinking Ship” in COP’s J’Ouvert band.

•  Any or all of which may include the following:
(a) possible aspirations to captain something or other,
(b) concerns that the current vessel ent thinking,
(c) a wish for the current vessel to start thinking,
(d) and in case that doesn’t happen, COP has one that can be thinking.

• Dooks however may be well advised to look to secure his own ship from potential cracks in the leadership contest ahead in July (before COP fulfils Winston Peters’ calypso concept of 1986).

• ...Quite a number of his COP executive was noticeably absent from the party’s band.

• Unless the PNM has copyrighted “Vision” (as in Vision 2020), the party may be in danger of having Dookeran borrow it more frequently henceforth.

• Dookeran has been working ”vision” into his House statements frequently, up to yesterday.

• PM Persad-Bissessar was noticeably darkers-less over Carnival. Her signature look of shades and big hair was parodied to death in ole mas and calypso shows—the price of being a fashion icon.


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